This post at scATX is a MUST-READ: Proof.

What’s that, all you lady scientists? Bias? I don’t know. Do you have PROOF?”

Book Review


Like Sherwood Anderson’s Youngstown, Ohio, Michael T. Darkow’s Our Promised Land is told in episodes, which retain common characters but shift focus among multiple settings, plot lines, and time periods. Unlike Anderson’s classic work, however, Darkow’s novel is not a coming of age tale but rather a study of human helplessness in the face of violence fueled by an ancient hate.

Set mainly in modern-day Israel and Palestine, Our Promised Land delves into Jewish history as well as Islamic history to explore its ancient themes. The book focuses on three main characters: the two protagonists, Ellie and Yathrib, and a shadowy antagonist, Fatahd. Ellie is an Israeli, a Holocaust survivor who later smuggled himself into Israel rather than face further anti-Semitism in Europe. Yathrib is a Palestinian, immigrating to America to study mathematics after Israeli expansion forces his family off the land they have occupied for centuries. Meanwhile, Fatahd, the book’s villain, is not so much hateful as maddeningly obscure.

The author’s choice of a non-ironic deus ex machina climax seems to indicate that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis rests on a history of hatred and violence.

Read more at Suite101: Book Review: Michael T. Darkow, Our Promised Land

Recap: CBS is airing an ad during the Superbowl featuring star college quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam, discussing how Pam chose to carry Tim to term instead of having a doctor-suggested abortion. IIRC, the commercial is sponsored by Focus on the Family and is supposed to inspire us all to criminalize abortion.

First: I have no trouble whatsoever with Pam and Tim telling their story. The kernel of it is “Pam chose to carry her son to term.” The verb in that sentence is chose. Like most pro-choicers, I am pro-choice. (Fancy that.)

Second: The problem I DO have is the use of “Pam chose to carry her son to term” as an anti-choice message. Pam’s not just telling her story, here: she’s telling it as a way to sell to the country the idea that other women should be required to carry their fetuses to term; crucially, that other women should not have the same choice Pam had. That is, to put it kindly, bullshit.

(Additionally, the implied message that every woman who chooses life will produce the finest quarterback ever to breathe Floridian air is silly. Of no real consequence, but silly.)

Third: I do not wholly buy CBS’s reasoning for allowing this particular political ad when they have not allowed political ads in the past. According to NPR, CBS is allowing this one because they could afford to turn away all political ads in past years, but cannot this year due to the economy. Really? CBS couldn’t find ONE MORE advertiser to take the Pam/Tim slot? Smells fishy to me.

Congress and/or the DOD are holding hearings today to determine whether and to what extent to repeal DADT. Among Congress’s concerns are whether to require all servicemembers to disclose their orientation and whether to extend healthcare and other benefits to same-sex partners. Which sounds like business as usual in Washington, only with a good-doobie progressive-thinking sort of twist. Right?

…Except that the very fact that this hearing is being held says that Congress has no intention of allowing GLBT soldiers to serve as anything but second-class citizens.

Because it’s really very simple. If you believe non-heterosexual soldiers should serve their country on the same footing as heterosexual soldiers, you repeal DADT wholesale. You give everyone the same benefits and the same treatment, no matter who’s which is going in who’s what. Simple. Problem solved.

The fact that Congress is spending taxpayer dollars on debating on what terms GLBT soldiers should be allowed to serve in the armed forces says flat out that Congress has already decided those terms will not be equal. GLBT soldiers will remain second-class citizens; now Congress just has to fight over how much second-classness they’ll be subjected to.

Not only am I totally gobsmacked by the obvious disparate treatment going on here, I’m also shocked that Congress is not the least bit ashamed of it. If they were, they’d find a way to keep it out of the news. Yet they’re not. In fact, they’re crowing about it. And we’re all supposed to believe this is the cookie Obama promised during his campaign. Don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining.

20:57: State of the Union is on every channel except WXSP, which is showing reruns of something called “The Unit.” Guess I can choose my own talking heads.
21:00: Congressman Joe Wilson is warming up in the back.
21:01: PBS is still extolling its sponsors. Commercials? On MY PBS? It’s more common than you think.
21:03: I have no idea who Jim Lehrer’s talking heads are, but they sound much less pompous and annoying than NBC’s talking heads.
21:04: You know who I miss? Molly Ivins.
21:06: Mosh!Pit!Obama!
21:07: Jim Lehrer just referred to Jill Biden as the “Second Lady.”
21:08: Jim says Tim Geithner “had a bad week.” Yeah, you could call it that.
21:11: And Michelle Obama is, apparently, “Lady Obama.” SWEET.
21:11: GO SPEECH GO! Obama kicks off with a Constitutional history lesson. Is this going to be on the exam?
21:12: Joe Biden looks like he’s going to cry, as Obama discusses the great trials facing our nation and answering history’s nature’s call. Or something.
21:13: “The economists told you this shit would happen. You did not listen. EVERYONE IS OUT OF WORK. YOUR HOUSES HAVE BURNED DOWN. SMALL TOWNS ARE NOW HAITI. DOOM AND SO FORTH.”
21:14: Obama reads children’s letters at night. What is he, Santa Claus?
21:15: “Wall Street sucks. Main Street sucks. Partisanship sucks. Challenges suck. Americans want shiny objects and for Congress to FUCKING DO SOMETHING.”
21:17: Obama has never been more hopeful about America’s future. That makes one of us….
21:18: Step One: the economy. Everybody hated the bank bailout, which was like getting a root canal from Tim Geithner. Obama: “WE MADE YOU A BAILOUT BUT YOU EATED IT.”
21:21: Obama announces cutting taxes for everyone except your mother-in-law. Congress is happy.
21:22: “We haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person.” Not even those who could afford it, mind you.
21:23: Obama mentions the stimulus bill. John McCain looks like he suddenly lost control of his bladder.
21:24: Joe Biden is going to cry. Joe Liberman is going to fall asleep.
21:24: Obama: “I CAN HAS JOBS BILL?”
21:25: Thanks to all the standing ovations, Congress has to stand up and sit down during the State of the Union more often than a Muslim prayer service. (Or a Catholic mass. I dunno, which is funnier?)
21:27: Our nation is going to build the infrastructure of Tomorrowland, which will be made entirely out of plastic and have a robot butler, also made entirely out of plastic. The plastics company will get tax credits and also stimulus money. The robot butler will get deported.
21:28: Justice Kennedy may be already dead.
21:30: Obama wants to change the world, then buy it a Coke and keep it company. And blow housing bubbles. Wait! No! He wants to catch up with China!
21:33: Senator Chris Dodd really shouldn’t have had that second enchilada.
21:36: “The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be China.” Wait, no – “will be the leader of the world economy.” But I repeat myself.
21:37: Make the Chinese buy OUR cheap plastic crap instead of the other way round! That will totally solve it! Wait, what was the problem again?
21:38: Joe Biden wonders why anyone bothered to give him a chair.
21:39: Obama: “Remember when we invested in America’s children? Big mistake.”
21:40: Obama: “Children should stay in school and study hard!” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: “BOO STFU COMMIE.”
21:41: “In today’s economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job.” I think you can take “good” out of that sentence, d00d….
21:42: “In the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.”
21:43: You know, when I’m trying to decide whether to buy food, medicine, or electricity, I TOTALLY think about those family tax credits I’m going to get. TOTALLY. ALL THE TIME. Sarcastic Cat is sarcastic.
21:44: Obama: “HEALTH CARE NAO!”
21:45: Michelle Obama: “Did you really have to mention me? Now everyone’s looking. Um, hi, everyone. Hi. Fuckoff.”
21:50: John McCain: “If I had been President, the deficit would have magically vanished before I took office.”
21:51: Obama: “I will bring my leftist socialtopia vision to fruition by implementing a rightist spending freeze that will freeze spending on anything that is not a frivolous war on unwinnable terrain. This will totally work because I AM CEILING CAT.”
21:53: Nancy Pelosi: “I wonder if the President realizes he’s wearing a ‘kick me’ sign?”
21:55 Obama: “The spending freeze will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be a spending freeze.”
21:56: Obama: “Let’s try common sense! It is delicious!”
21:57: Obama wants much tighter controls on lobbyists and special interests; did not think Citizens United was a particularly good idea. Justice Ginsburg is clearly propped up on her own gavel.
21:59: Obama didn’t think his election would “usher in peace and harmony and a bipartisan era.” Unfortunately, he forgot to mention this to a metric crapton of his followers. (The latest issue of The Nation is devoted entirely to this little problem.)
22:01: Obama makes an oblique reference to Sotomayor’s kabuki nomination.
22:02: There are A LOT of ugly old white men in suits in this room. Like, way more than there are in the general population. Just sayin.
22:03: Obama is too young to want to continue Congress’s endless referendum on the 1960s. It is, like, totally boring.
22:04: Band Name of the Day: Al-Qaeda Spiders.
22:05: Obama: End the unwinnable fuckall-expensive war! …in 2011. Maybe. Not in Afghanistan.
22:07: Senator Joe Liberman: “Wait, why am I standing again?”
22:08: Obama: “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS.” Congress: *clap clap clap stand stand clap clap stand clap*
22:09: The greatest threat to the American people is the threat of nuclear weapons. Not nuclear weapons themselves, mind you. Just the threat of them.
22:10: We’re going to “secure all vulnerable nuclear weapons around the world within four years,” yet the U.S.’s chemical weapons arsenal in Kentucky, which was supposed to be decommissioned by the end of this year, is going to be around until at least 2021 even on an “accelerated” decommissioning schedule. WTF? Really?
22:10: Science and technology education will redeem those backwards Muslims! Totally! I mean, hell, it’s not like they invented our number system, or anything. …wait…
22:11: Soon Haiti will be more delicious than ever!
22:12: We support the human rights of women marching in Iran and Afghanistan…but not of women in our own country. American is “on the side of freedom and dignity” as long as we don’t actually have to *do* anything about it.
22:13: “If you adhere to our common values, you should be treated no differently than anyone else.” Us pinko hippie liberals, however, can suck it.
22:14: Obama: “I WILL TOTALLY REPEAL DADT.” About fucking time, you slack bastard!
22:14: Obama: “EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK.” I’ll believe it when I see it.
22:14: Obama: “STRENGTHEN OUR BORDERS.” Which of these things is not like the other…?
22:17: Insert several minutes of rhetoric here.
22:18: Patrick Kennedy just realized he left the stove on.
22:20: CARRY THE DREAM. Lift that barge, tote that bale, the torch has been passed to a day that shall live in infamy fourscore and seven years ago. And so forth.

Screw the Republican response. I’m going to bed.

Sen. John Kyl was on NPR this morning WHIIIINING about how they really do do stuff and Obama was MEEEEEN to suggest otherwise. He wants a COOOOOKIE MOOOOOOM…

I think I have just eaten Dembski’s probabilitistic lunch, but I need someone who knows more about probability theory than I do to check my work.

I will try to explain in a way normal mortals can understand. :P

In his book on intelligent design, Dembski argues, among other things, that certain biological structures cannot have happened by chance because the probability that they would appear by chance in nature (presumably, he means “at all anywhere ever”) is less than 1 in 10^150. (I have issues with how he got this number that are too complicated to go into here*, so for the sake of this argument, we’ll go with 1 in 10^150.)

My first instinct was that this was wrong, because it overlooks that certain structures are meaningful to us.

A very simple illustration: say you can make a protein from a series of building blocks, which are chosen by random flips of a coin. Dembski argues, for example, that HTTHTHTHTHTHTHHHTHTH could not occur randomly in nature because the chances of that sequence happening randomly in nature fall below 1 in 10^150. (This is just an illustration; I haven’t even tried to do the math to demonstrate the probability of flipping HTTHTHTHTHTHTHHHTHTH. My excuse is that Dembski doesn’t do it either.) My first problem with this is that we only give a shit about HTTHTHTHTHTHTHHHTHTH in the first place because it is meaningful to us; the probability of hitting HTTHTHTHTHTHTHHHTHTH on the first try** is susceptible to the position of the observer (us) as to whether HTTHTHTHTHTHTHHHTHTH is significant.

I had absolutely no way of articulating this until I remembered the Monty Hall Problem. The Monty Hall Problem (you may remember this from some recent movie with math geeks in it; I know I saw it there but I can’t remember which movie – I’m thinking either 21 or Good Will Hunting) goes like this:

Imagine you are on a game show. The point of the game show is to win a car. In front of you are three doors, marked 1, 2, and 3, which are closed. You know there is a car behind one door and goats behind the other two doors.

The host (who knows what is behind each door) asks you to pick a door. For illustration, you pick Door No. 1. The host then opens Door No. 2 and shows you the goat behind it. Then, the host asks if you want to keep Door No. 1 or switch to Door No. 3. What do you do?

The answer, counterintuitively, is that you switch. Because if you switch, you have a 2 in 3 chance of winning the car, whereas if you stick, your chance of winning is only 1 in 3. It’s counterintuitive because, once you know what is behind Door No. 2, you’d think your chance of winning the car is only 50/50: after all, there are only two closed doors left, and you know that one door is car and the other is goat.

But what skews the odds is not that you don’t know what’s behind 1 or 3, but that the host does, and more importantly, that the host did not show you the car. The probability that you’ll win the car has changed not because the numbers have, but because of the influence of the host’s knowledge on the numbers.

To maybe make it clearer: say that, instead of three doors, there are a hundred doors. You pick Door No. 1, and the host opens all the other doors *except* Door No. 49. You’d switch, instantly, because it’s obvious the host knows something you don’t about about Door No. 49 – say, that there’s a car behind it. (Yes, it is possible that the host picked No. 49 arbitrarily and you had the car in the first place. It’s also true that, in the original problem, the host picked No. 2 arbitrarily and you had the car in the first place. That’s why your chance of winning if you switch is only 2 in 3, not 3 in 3.)

Dembski’s argument is predicated on the idea that all possible combinations (say, of proteins) are equally likely, and that therefore any one of the equally-likely combinations cannot have happened by chance. But (overlooking the vast array of external pressures for the moment, because Dembski does) the combinations aren’t all equally likely. Like the host, we’ve eliminated a huge number of zonk combinations because we know they do not work. And our chances of landing on the few that do work thus increase. I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I would bet they increase well over Dembski’s “probabilitistic threshold” of 1 in 10^150.

That’s as clear as I can make it right now, unfortunately.

And of course, even if this flaw exists, the entire notion of “design theory” suffers from another a priori flaw that renders this one moot: it unnecessarily compounds the postulate. There is simply no need to postulate a Creator Intelligence, Dembski’s “probabilitistic threshold” notwithstanding. What’s hilarious is that Dembski even admits as much, albeit not in so many words.

*Dembski comes up with 1 in 10^150 by multiplying the estimated number of elementary particles in the universe by the estimated number of units of Planck time that have passed since the universe began. I still suspect that anything that could occur beneath a threshold consisting of the smallest possible bit of matter multiplied by the smallest measurable unit of time could not “occur” in any meaningful sense at all, but I have no way of demonstrating it just yet.

**Dembski does seem to think we ought to hit on a working biological structure on the first try, or never. I also think he’s wrong about this because he fails to account for the amount of time available for biological structures to respond to adaptive and other pressures.


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